I’ve been told I’m special and one of a kind my whole life. It wasn’t always intended in a positive way. But I suppose it is the truth.
I’ve said this before – everyone is different. Everyone’s cancer is different, and everyone’s response to cancer treatment is different. Some people get violently ill from chemo and radiation treatment. Some people don’t. Some people have major reactions to anti-nausea medications and some don’t Everyone experiences side effects differently. Yes, there are some typical reactions to these medications, but not everyone experiences them, nor do they experience them in the same way. Same with surgeries and pain medications and a host of other things directly related to cancer or not. We are all different.
I’ve so far, knock on wood, not gotten sick from chemo. I did have a strong reaction to the first anti-nausea drug I was on, but after I got past that, I was “okay,” which means that I would feel gross about the 3rd day after chemo, then I’d start feeling better a few days later. Feel almost normal the following week, just in time to start the cycle over again. I made it through 5 months of dose-dense chemo cocktails that way. I was worse for the wear but not knocked down. After the cancer spread to the lymph nodes under my sternum, I suffered through another miserable 4 months of chemo that made me wish I were sick and almost 2 months of radiation that didn’t give me the benefit of even a hint of bronze look to my skin. Knowing that I can’t spend any time in the sun after that bothers me a little, but I’d rather go out covered than have to worry about what happens if I don’t.
While losing my hair bothered me some, it bothers my mother more than it does me. It will grow back. Yeah, it won’t be the same, but I’m not sure I want it to be. When I last saw my own hair, it was a mousy blond-ish gray. I don’t want that back. I’d rather just be gray. Or purple or even back to blonde. Maybe I could go red. Maybe I could go straight white. My options are open. The ability to dye my hair doesn’t make me a unicorn, either.
I don’t usually have issues recovering from surgery. In all honesty, I haven’t had many of the issues other women who’ve had a lumpectomy/partial mastectomy and lymph node dissection have had. My incisions all healed nicely. I have some limitations to my range of motion and the sensation in that arm, but not so much that I can’t do normal things. Surgery to remove a sizable mass in my brain was a little different story. For whatever reason, I ended up with a dissolvable stitch that didn’t want to dissolve and a nasty-assed infection in my head that no one could really explain. An infection that caused a neurosurgeon to drill a hole in my skull so they could figure out what kind of bug it was. I’m not a unicorn because I went home alone after that surgery. Although, you’d think that would qualify.
There were multiple radiation treatments that sucked my energy away all the times I’ve had them. In the nearly 2 years since I was diagnosed, having my cancer spread and all the subsequent treatments, I’m still somehow standing.
None of this really makes me a unicorn. I see other women who’ve had surgery after surgery and have been on all kinds of chemos and hormone suppressing drugs that are also still standing.
What makes me a unicorn is not that I was determined to get back to as much of my old life as I could at each major juncture. I think all of us going through this want as much normality back as we can possibly get. Despite chemo robbing me of my ability to remember anything having to do with a date or a deadline, or much anything else, really. I’ve worked hard to be able to maintain focus for more than 30 minutes to an hour. To remember words, to be able to maintain a train of thought and be able to read more than a couple of sentences before I’m exhausted and frustrated. I’ve had to fight to be able to juggle tasks at work. To keep track of email threads.
It’s not that I went back to work after chemo, after my lumpectomy, my radiation or my subsequent chemo and radiation treatments. It’s not that I can manage a full day of work most days. Going back to work with chemo brain was a huge challenge. There were times I felt absolutely useless to my company. There were many days where I spent my entire lunch hour napping because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I still hit those walls from time to time. They’re not as often as they once were.
What makes me a unicorn is my magical ability to make this look easy from the outside. So easy that people too easily forget that I have a terminal disease. So easy that while I can do the occasional 14 hour day, they forget that I can’t maintain this level of energy or commitment anymore because cancer makes me pay later. There’s so much that others just don’t see that make them think I’m doing something special and heroic.
It’s not. I’m just living day to day like everyone else.